He was the 8th overall pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and joins three Cleveland first round picks on the High-A Lynchburg team in 2015. The time between has been filled with challenges, but Casey Weathers is determined to persevere in pursuit of his dream of playing in the majors.
Casey was not always a pitcher, having been an outfielder at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, California, and then at Sacramento City College. It was in junior college that he was converted to the mound, featuring a 94 mph fastball. He transferred to Vanderbilt in for his junior and senior years, joining a team led by current major leaguers David Price and former Lynchburg Hillcat Pedro Alvarez.
Asked if he would go back to hitting if he couldn’t get his arm fully healthy, Weathers said, “Absolutely not! There is a reason they converted me to a pitcher really fast.” With only a slightly diminished grin, “I don’t think hitting was my calling, ever.”
His pitching repertoire features a mid to high 90’s fastball, complemented by a plus slider. Following the 2007 draft he made his full season professional debut at Low-A Asheville of the South Atlantic League. He made 13 appearances out of the bullpen with 19 strikeouts to 7 walks in just over thirteen innings.
His sophomore season saw him jump to Double-A Tulsa in the Texas league. At Tulsa he continued his power pitching out of the bullpen, with 54 strikeouts in 44 innings. This developed into an opportunity to pitch for Team USA in the Olympics in 2008, which earned him a Bronze medal. He followed it up with assignment to the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall league.
Making only one appearance in Arizona, the next event was one that would change the direction of his career. He felt pain in his elbow, and after an MRI the report came back that he had a rupture of the anterior bundle of the medial collateral ligament; in other words Tommy John surgery. That began a journey that has brought him to Lynchburg. The 2009 Baseball Prospectus team wrote of Weathers, “. . . pitching in the Arizona Fall league, his elbow went pop – he’ll miss all of 2009 after Tommy John surgery. The good news is that with today’s medical advancements, that’s now just a bump in the road.”
Unfortunately for Casey Weathers it has turned into a more significant detour.
Coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2010 and pitching at two stops in the Rockies system, he still got strikeouts, but his control had deserted him and he was pitching through pain. In December of 2011 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with Ian Stewart. His original minor league contract ended following the 2012 season, and he signed with the San Francisco organization.
“After the first one [surgery] I was never right from the get-go.” he said. “Signing with the Giants, I was throwing 90-91 [mph], my elbow was still bothering me. I couldn’t work out in between.”
He was released by the Giants without being assigned to a farm club, but it wasn’t the end for Weathers.
“I got released and I didn’t feel as if that was how I wanted to go out. It wasn’t me.”
A follow-up MRI in 2012 identified a bone spur, which led to a second surgery to remove the bone chip and loose bodies. He missed all of the 2013 season. Throughout this time he continued to pitch with intermittent pain in his forearm.
It was then that former Vandy teammate Caleb Cotham, currently pitching for the Double-A Trenton Thunder, connected him with an organization called DriveLine, in Puyallup, Washington.
“My buddy Caleb . . . he had done some remote training with Kyle.” says Weathers. “I was impressed by his blog, so I went up there for a month.”
“I don’t know if I was quite ready when I went up there, I was still in that rehab mode a little bit.”
DriveLine is an organization that uses biomechanics and research based results to develop high intensity workouts to optimize a pitchers velocity and maintain arm health. It uses weighted balls along with a lengthy warm-up and arm care protocol to generate optimum results for each participant.
After his initial trip to DriveLine, he signed the following season (2014) with the Tampa Bay organization pitching in eight games for the High-A Charlotte Stonecrabs of the Florida State league. Getting released by Tampa Bay he decided it was time to make a more serious commitment to see if he could get back to being the power pitcher he had when he was drafted.
Working with DriveLine took him back to some methods he had become familiar with in college.
“We did a lot of weighted ball and exotic training at Vanderbilt and I always wanted to get back to that.”
This season with the High-A Hillcats Casey has been a consistent performer out of the pen. In 10 appearances he has finished six games and earned three saves, striking out 14 and walking 8 in 10.2 innings. Not quite the ratios he was generating when first drafted, but much more successful than his efforts between his two surgeries.
His approach has meshed well with the Cleveland philosophy and Weathers has another opportunity to achieve his dream.
“Just with [the Indians] stance on weighted balls and long toss and really just the athleticism. This really falls in line with what I believe and what has kept me around the game the last 2 seasons. It has given my career a little bit of a second life.”
He fits well into the Hillcats bullpen, commonly a more cavalier environment during games.
“I get the jokes,“ says Weathers, “I’m the bullpen Dad. They’ll pick my brain, but I don’t try to be the one doling out life lessons.”
As minor league prospect analyst John Sickels wrote of Weathers in his 2009 Baseball Prospect Book, “When healthy, Weathers has everything you want in a major league closer, but we have to see how things go with his recovery.”
Casey Weathers is still on that road to recovery. With effort and a newfound training regimen courtesy of DriveLine he is getting back the skills that he once showed off on the international stage.
“My goal for the season is to progress with my consistency.” he says.
With continued success the 29-year-old looks forward to a long run in the Cleveland Indians organization.